This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 Sep 1992: Shilowa, Sam
POM I want to go back, Mr. Shilowa, first to last March. The Weekly Mail ran a story which said over the weekend of March 14 and 15th COSATU unveiled its constitution on economic proposals, which the Weekly Mail said, "Designed to catapult the federation from a supporting act to centre stage in crucial economic and constitution negotiations." The federation wanted an interim government in place by the end of June, elections for a constituent assembly by the end of the year with a guarantee of a new constitution by next year. At the time Jay Naidoo said COSATU would, "Undertake mass action on an unprecedented scale if its demands were not met." Then on July 1st he said the date for mass action would be on the 3rd of August. What is the role of COSATU in the alliance and has the role changed over the last year? Has COSATU assumed a more prominent significance, so to speak?
SS I think I will begin by saying, that COSATU had its fourth national conference last year in July. That congress took place on the background of the Inkathagate scandal, the admission by Pik Botha that he had used about R380 million or more to finance the DTA. That congress drew a three year plan for COSATU which had three major components. The first one was a need for a political settlement, and in that regard what we understood by political settlement meant, that yes, we should go for multi-party negotiations, which negotiations must produce principles that will underpin a constitution. We need to set in place an interim government of national unity to supervise the elections for a Constituent Assembly, and that we would want to have a Constituent Assembly with sovereign powers save for those principles that have been agreed upon at CODESA.
We also set ourselves a goal of building a strong COSATU because we felt that it is only with a strong COSATU that we would be able to intervene at the political and economic level; and thirdly we said we want to establish a national economic negotiations forum and deal with the whole question of labour market institutions.
Now, what has actually happened is that, by March this year all we did was actually to begin to implement such a programme, which programme included, and leading up to, beginning 16th June, mass marches throughout the country, a number of rallies, a number of pickets, occupations, and so forth, which culminated, apart from 'Living Wage' marches in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and East London, with a one week of action which began on the 3rd of August; which week both the 3rd and the 4th of August saw in excess of four million people staying away from work, hundreds of thousands participated in marches on the 5th, and so the list went on.
Now the role the COSATU has been playing in the alliance, and will continue to play, is one when we meet as COSATU, work out our strategic perspective with regard to the political situation, socio-economic and at an organisational level. In terms of our political vision, we take this obviously to the alliance so that we have the benefit of inside of the ANC's perspective and the same with the SACP, so that we then begin to harmonise our strategic perspective and come out with a conceptual framework which suits all of us.
So the role that we play now is not one of a dominant one against the ANC or the party, but it is one wherein we say, if we are going to engage in mass action, we can deliver our constituency with regards to certain actions, the ANC delivers its own constituency with regards to certain actions, the same goes for the SACP, then obviously the education sector, health etc.
POM In the course of my interviews during your winter here in July and August, a number of people both in the ANC and the SACP made a point of saying that COSATU had moved more centre stage and maybe that was because of all the attention that was being focused on the upcoming mass action in August. Do you feel that you are giving direction to the alliance in a way that you might not have been doing so, say 12-15 months ago?
SS Not necessarily. I think the problem with people then beginning to say that COSATU is occupying a centre, I think it is derived from the fact that there has always been a perception that the ANC, per se, is against mass action and that it is COSATU and the Communist Party (CP) who are pushing for mass action, whereas that is not the issue. What has been happening is that we played a centre stage in so far as the 3rd and the 4th of August, the projection thereof, because if you are talking of the withdrawal of labour, obviously it is us who can deliver a constituency that can withdraw its labour power. If you are talking of workers having to use their trucks or person power to blockade streets, it is us who can deliver on those. But if you look into the whole question of mobilisations, for instance, in the rural areas, in the villages, it is the ANC and the CP that has to deliver those constituencies, both by way of having them in rallies and actually ensuring that when we have a COSATU 'Living Wage' march, it is not only by COSATU members but it is by all components of the alliance, so I think that is what has been happening.
Of course from the beginning, ever since the unbanning of the ANC, we have been engaged in fielding problems, both relating to whether consultation was taking place fully, and vice versa, and I think COSATU, in terms of the alliance, is obviously as guilty as the ANC would have been because it depends on the objective situation. If you look into the question of the National Economic Negotiations Forum that COSATU is fighting for, it is an issue where we are directly involved. Therefore you would find that in terms of that, we would tend to push ahead very seriously, because that is our terrain, but the ANC would tend to push very, very heavily on the political terrain because that is where their terrain is, so that that mutual reinforcement is what has been happening. But I think the key now is that it was not only the leadership at COSATU/ANC/SACP level that were now saying we need to move in this particular direction, we began to set in motion a programme of rolling mass action, which allowed for regional initiatives and in certain regions, obviously COSATU took to the streets more frequently than the alliance did, so I think that also projected that image.
But if you look into the agenda and the demands, the demands were centred around the fourteen demands as issued by the ANC when they withdrew from the CODESA process.
POM Would it be fair to say that they began to see the wisdom of using rolling mass action to achieve those objectives, that this was the most expeditious and efficient route of trying to make the government react to those demands?
SS Yes, I would say so. You see, as has been said before, the alliance met on the 13th of May, wherein we began to project that the 15th and 16th of May there was going to be CODESA 2. We began to map up a programme of action that said, this is the action which we should engage in as the alliance should the process breakdown, which was the rolling mass action; secondly, to say, this is the type of action that we will engage in the process to succeed to strengthen the hand of those who are negotiating. Nonetheless, CODESA broke down, we then had the ANC's policy conference on the 20th of May, which emerged again with a polished programme of mass activity, which was then brought to the alliance and was finally then adopted by the entire alliance. So I think that wisdom of saying mass action and negotiations are not incompatible, that you can actually refine or tailor the mass action to suit the negotiations or to unlock the deadlock at the negotiations.
POM So even if negotiations say had succeeded at CODESA, if CODESA had moved on to the next level, did you still envisage at that point some programme of mass action to kind of buttress the continuing negotiating process?
SS Yes. You see one of the key issues that we are facing at the moment is that from our side we are saying, if we want to change the perception of our people and focus them in a particular way, the regime needs to accept that we need to set a date of when we are going to have elections for a Constituent Assembly. That then changes the whole climate, in the same way that in Angola, the thought of people going for the polls changed the whole atmosphere. In our case, there is agreement between us and the regime, but before we go for elections, it is important to set in motion an interim government of national unity.
Now, there has been discussion to say, what we need to set up is transitional structures which will clear the way and bring about elections for a Constituent Assembly which will have a dual function: sitting on one side as an interim parliament with an elected executive; and also sitting as a single chamber to draft a new constitution, that is the one thing. Secondly, we think that violence must come to an end. So even if CODESA 2 had reached an agreement on the agreed majorities with regard to the Constituent Assembly, had reached the fact that it was going to operate in a sovereign way, had agreed on the principles to underpin such a constitution, we would still have campaigned for an end to violence, we would still have campaigned for the creation of a free political climate in certain areas, because there are areas which are no-go areas, like in KwaZulu. As Comrade Madiba said yesterday, that de Klerk was able to insist that he is going to Ventersdorp last year, because it was his democratic right, despite the objection of the AWB, despite the fact that they said people were going to die and in fact three people died, but he said it was his democratic right to organise anywhere where he has members. Now all we are saying is that we want to be accorded the same status, that in KwaZulu we do have ANC members, we do have COSATU members, we want them to be able to meet from time to time, the same happens in the Ciskei, the same happens in Bop.
So we are not singling them out because we want to try and bring them into the fold of the ANC. What we are saying is that if we are going to have free and fair elections, it is important to begin now to build up a culture of tolerance, where you don't have no-go areas. So yes, we would have continued with a programme of mass activity, but which would have been meant to strengthen the hand of the negotiators, to push the question of re-incorporation, to deal with the question of violence and to create a climate for free political activity.
POM There was some question last spring as I recall, that COSATU itself would look for a seat at CODESA, that it would have independent representation. In a restructured CODESA, whether it is called CODESA 3 or something completely different, if a new negotiating forum emerges out of the current process in which presumably the PAC, AZAPO take part, do you see COSATU looking for representation on that body?
SS No. I think the approach that we have now taken is one that says, in the run up to mass action we have been able to establish better ways between us and the alliance as a whole of communicating, of carrying our own membership together with us, therefore what is crucial is not COSATU's seat at CODESA or any multi lateral forum, what is crucial is the fact that the labour movement, the civics, the education sector, the women and student sectors must be able to input into the ANC's agenda, so that we are part of the breakthrough as well as part of the breakdown in the negotiations process. So that is the type of approach that we are going to take it from.
POM A number of people, again when I was here during the winter, said that the real left wing of the ANC is COSATU and over the year you had given no unflinching support to the principles of the Freedom Charter to the nationalisation of basic industry, and yet if you look at the ANC's economic proposals, which came out of the policy conference at the end of May, they did not adopt a resolution calling for a minimum wage, which kind of surprised me, since even in the most capitalistic America, there is a minimum. The word nationalisation was barely mentioned, the word socialism kind of disappeared and indeed, the Business Day, in an editorial it endorsed the ANC for its realism. It said that it had difficulty in taking serious exception to the economic policies the ANC had proposed, and that in itself is a measure of how far the ANC's leadership has shifted from its earlier unflinching support for socialism. Has the ANC moved in the direction of market driven capitalism? How would your economic policies differ from the economic policies that have been laid out by the ANC?
SS I think the first point to make is that the ANC never undertook a socialist programme. The ANC is a nationalist revolutionary movement. It is an organisation which accepts everybody, irrespective of class. In other words, you would have business people who are also members of the ANC. Whereas COSATU is an organisation of the workers, and COSATU's programme is inclined towards the building of a socialist SA, the same with the SACP.
Now, the approach that we are taking is that the ANC's programme of economic reform obviously has to take into account that what we want to have is a mixed economy. But the question is mixed in whose favour? In favour of the workers, or in favour of the bosses to make profit and the right to expropriate all of this profit to their countries of origin? That to us is really the issue.
The question of nationalisation, the ANC's position has always been one that says we are not going to go for wholesale nationalisation. But, of course, we in COSATU have issued a statement, we had our own economic policy conference in April, which emerged with a programme of activity and also an economic policy discussion document which said, yes we are going to insist on nationalisation of certain key industries. We said some of these would be electricity, for instance, we said there is no way in which we can actually not nationalise electricity, the health services. We also said, whether we are going to nationalise any of the conglomerates or monopolies is not dependent on whether we just want to nationalise them or not, we are going to look into a number of criterion to say firstly, if we nationalise this industry, is it going to create more jobs for people, if it is not going to create more jobs, then there is no need to nationalise it. What is the cost effectiveness of nationalising a mine which is actually marginal at the moment? Shouldn't we rather use that money, rather than buying that mine, for something else. So even COSATU's position is not one of wholesale nationalisation. I think the approach that we are taking, which brings me back to your final question of the market driven policy, COSATU's policy has never been one that says we want a commanding type of economy. I think we have accepted a long time ago, for your information in 1987 we commissioned a group to do research, called Economic Triumph, to do research on the economy. We then produced a booklet called The Political Economy, which booklet began to show that there is a decline in the economy, that the mining industry has now began to shrink and is going down, the petrol industry and a whole lot of things, so we dealt with the global aspect of it.
We then moved into the second stage of industrial restructuring which research is now continuing, where we say, we have now seen what is wrong with the present economy and what has to be done to move it in a particular direction, which is central to the fact that we will have to restructure industry. Now, how are we going to restructure industry in a way which allows technology to come in, allows the market to operate but in a way which is beneficial not only to people making business, but to the workers as well. That is why as far as we are concerned, we are saying the programme of the ANC is one that says when we take over, we want to ensure that as many people invest in our country as possible, but while taking into account that even in their own countries, whether it is America, whether it is Britain, whether it is Germany, they have a social responsibility as well and to us that social responsibility deals with the question of housing, the question of electricity, health and education: and lastly to say, if you look into our programme and that of the ANC we are saying, you would need to go for a rural development programme as well, because unless you begin to build factories in the rural areas, what you are actually going to see is an influx of people coming into the cities. So that is really our approach.
So yes, we support the ANC's position in that sense. No one should sit in the Union Buildings or in Cape Town and say for this year you are going to produce maize meal and this is your quota because if you do that it will survive for the next four to five years but then it is going to start going down the tube. What we want to do is to have an economy that is market driven but ensure that the market driven economy is not one wherein it leads to retrenchments, it must be labour intensive. We accept a bringing of technology into SA, but you know you have got areas like Taiwan, South Korea and other areas, where they are actually producing high quality stuff, high technology, pay high wages, but still maintain labour intensiveness, that is what we are looking for, and that is where we are actually sending a number of our people abroad to begin to study, as COSATU, some of these aspects.
POM Do you often feel like what has gone on in CODESA 2, it looked as though in many respects a lot of progress has been made on the political front and there is no doubt that the battle for political empowerment will be won, but that does not mean that the battle for economic empowerment can be won, and very often when I ask whites what is more important to them, political power or economic power, they invariably say economic power, and I have not seen that focus yet in the negotiations on economic issues, on specific measures that would address redistribution. I am saying that as a statement in the context of what really surprised me, which was when the negotiators agreed to the percentage veto thresholds for the inclusion of items in a Bill of Rights (BOR), and 70% for inclusion of items in a constitution, it seemed to me that most polls said the government and its allies could cobble together 25% of the vote which would mean they could veto the inclusion of second generation rights, which are always associated specifically with COSATU.
Just looking at the provisions that we outlined during the negotiations, 75% for the inclusion of items in a BOR and 70% for items in the constitution, would COSATU have had trouble, if the government had said yes, OK, we accept, would you have trouble selling that to your membership?
SS Yes, in the same way that the ANC found it difficult to sell it to their own membership. But you see it is not a question of percentages per se, because you see, when the government says 70% for the adoption of a new constitution, they now say that they can never get 70% themselves, so what they are then looking for is what is the minimum which they can be able to muster as a veto over whatever is going to be proposed by the majority in the Constituent Assembly.
Now, I am saying that is not the real issue because, you see our position as COSATU is one that says no political settlement will succeed unless it is underpinned by an economic settlement, that is our position. It is with that in mind that we have actually been saying to the government that let us come together as labour, business and as government presently, to begin to say how to do we begin to set in motion, to lay the foundations for the rebuilding of the SA economy. Now all of this has been thwarted by the regime because their position, they seem to be having in mind that we can be out of power but we are going to run the country economically in terms of the agenda which we ourselves will have set in motion. You see to us that is a problem but it is not a major problem because we believe that our organisational strength is enough on the ground to yield results even if you have a 75% threshold for a BOR.
I am not saying we would support that, but I am saying that I think we do have organisational muster which could actually be able to push business to lobby the government and their allies to give in. You raised the question of a minimum wage; COSATU's position is one that says that we don't want to go for a minimum wage because it stifles the need to bargain, but what we want entrenched is the duty to bargain because once you have the duty to bargain enshrined as your right, the right to collective bargaining, then it allows you to negotiate either at factory level, at plant level, at industry level and so forth and that therefore we are going to use our organisational strength to win our demands, rather than have them regulated. So that has been our position.
POM Would you see some of the agreements thrashed out at this forum, the Economic Forum that you are talking about, business, labour and the government, would you see some of the agreements arrived at by consensus in that forum as being enshrined in the constitution as being social perks that would exist parallel to the constitution?
SS No, as neither. We would see it as a situation where we are saying we need to identify the problems with the present economy. Business would say to us, "We are losing business and many factories are closing down." We would say, "Many of our members are actually being retrenched from work, students who are passing matric have got virtually no chance of entering the job market, the unemployment rate is growing too high." Therefore, we need to begin to say how do we save the industry as it exists, begin to work on long term strategies of how to overhaul it, to bring in new technology, but also to begin to spurn and stop retrenchments.
We would also begin to say, the type of taxation process that we have in our country is such that individual tax is so high that you can't go higher, how do you then begin to bring it down? What is then going to happen is that rather than them saying, because we have now agreed on this let's implement all of it, we had chosen two aspects, the short term and the long term: the short term will deal with job creation, the question of food prices, the question of VAT and how it affects basic food stuffs and the question of the closure of factories; the long term will begin to deal with the question of structural adjustment, the question of the Gert(?) Treaty, the IMF coming in and so forth.
Our approach on that says in terms of the short term objectives it is possible to implement them now until we have an interim government of national unity, but once you have a government of national unity, then the government of national unity takes over the participation of the present administration in there and we begin to shape a long term economic process, some of which aspects can be enshrined in the constitution and some of which can actually run parallel.
The question which COSATU is still debating is one of a social contract. There is no position either/or, but I will give you my own personal position with regard to the social contract. I think it will be very difficult in the present context to arrive at a social contract between labour, business and the present government, (i) because business will not be able to deliver their own constituencies although they were willing to enter into an agreement on a Charter for Democracy, Peace and Economic Reconstruction, the SACCOLA/COSATU Accord. They were prepared to enter into that, but they couldn't carry their entire constituency. It is the same thing with COSATU, I think it will be very difficult for us, for instance, to get a moratorium on strikes from our own membership, it will be impossible because the workers don't see the SA economy as their own economy, they see it as a white man's economy and I think until you begin to bring them into the economy it will be very difficult to have strikes and social accord.
But what I think is possible for COSATU is to, between COSATU and the ANC, enter into what I prefer to call, a reconstruction accord, wherein we begin to say to the ANC, in the event you come to power, this is how we believe, jointly, that we need to engage in these type of activities to reconstruct the SA economy. Obviously the ANC would have to interact, as a government then, with business and with labour, but I think such a reconstruction accord can hold between us and them, in the same way that I think the Australians were able to work out something. In the long run maybe once we have a democratic government, I think it is then possible to begin to work towards whether it is a social accord, social contract and so forth, because workers begin to see that they have got a stake in the economy, it is a government elected by them that is in power, it is a government which will listen to them when they say, listen, we need to have labour legislation that protects the rights of workers, that begins to say that we want to have labour market institutions like the National Training Boards, that rather than retrench people and send them back to the homelands, let us retrain them so that they can be able to take up jobs in other industries. I think in that context, it is possible to begin to look into that, but presently I think if COSATU entered into such an accord it would not hold.
POM What interests me about what you say is that in Namibia there has been this breakdown between the unions and the government, that the unions made a series of demands, and as having been part of the liberation movement, having participated in it, having supported it, the government essentially said, we don't have the resources. How do you think that situation developed and how do you prevent a similar situation developing here in a post apartheid era?
SS You see in Namibia, the one problem that you had was that you had the comrades of the Namibian Union of National Workers, they had just began to regroup and to rebuild the labour movement when elections came, so firstly they had not finalised their own economic policies, they had not worked out the question of the rights of workers, we were actually still on the verge of jointly, them and us, working around that programme. Whereas you see, with us, we have done a number of studies with regard to labour relations, we have been to seminars, we have done research with the ILO, we have actually worked out a programme ourselves which the ILO, when they came here this year, said this is the type of thing which is necessary as an LRA for a future SA and actually instructed the government to begin to look into that. So that is the one aspect that we have.
Secondly, we have developed our own economic policies, even though they are not at the final stage, but we have had research on how this economy has been ravaged, how it can be brought up, we are doing research on how to restructure industry, to bring in new technology without losing many jobs, so that when we meet with the ANC we are not shouting slogans with them, we are able to say to them these are the issues and this is how we believe they can be implemented and any researcher would be able to back that up. I think that is the one difference.
The third difference is that, we are organisationally strong on the ground, I think the ANC will also understand that if they ride rough shod over the workers' demands, they will not survive the next elections, that is a reality. So, I think we will be able to avoid that.
Another point is that the ANC's character is largely working class oriented, the majority of their members come from the rural areas, they come from the under privileged, so therefore it is incumbent upon them ...
POM The majority of them come from the rural areas?
SS I am saying that in rural, the under privileged, the workers and so forth, so that the middle-men and women business people would constitute a minute proportion of the ANC membership. We have got a different situation of resources. As COSATU we have been able to do research that shows that we do have enough resources in our country but the problem is that if you look into capital, it is no more being invested towards job building structure, but in the JSE, in properties and so forth. So what is important is that we think that we will be able to deal with that. We have also got a number of pension and provident fund agreements as COSATU which we can actually be able to utilise for a social drive programme. So it would be a different ball-game altogether.
POM Do you see yourselves as being organisationally stronger in urban areas than the ANC, which would be organisationally stronger in the rural areas?
SS Not entirely so. Obviously, you see, in terms of COSATU, our strength lies in industrial areas and that is a key issue, with the exception of the public sector, that the public sector, the major part of it also comes from the various homelands and Bantustans, that is the one aspect. Whereas with the ANC, if you look into the Transkei region, if you look into the Border region, if you look into the Eastern Transvaal, if you look into the Northern Transvaal, these are all regions based in rural areas, so the major chunk of their membership comes from the rural areas. But obviously in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape and the PWV areas most of their membership will be coming from the townships, so within the ANC there is that balance, whereas with COSATU mainly, it is people who are engaged in industrial work, so it will be in peri-urban areas in the main.
POM You said the government is being intransigent in the face of the Economic Forum at the moment, they are really not willing to participate or to be a serious partner, are you writing them off until there is an interim government or until there is a transitional arrangement in place?
SS No. You see, the approach that we are taking is that the government's calculation has been that all they have to do is to unlock the political negotiations process and then mass action will then wither away, and that is where they are making a miscalculation, because while the ANC says it will review its programme of mass action, it will review it in so far as it is related to breaking the logjam in the negotiations process. But insofar as it relates to socio-economic issues, insofar as it relates to the demand for the creation of a free political climate of activity in Bantustans like Bophuthatswana, KwaZulu and Ciskei, you have to run with that programme, and I think that therefore, what they are hoping for is that having unlocked, they will then begin to cause a schism between COSATU and the ANC because we will want to push on with regard to the question of the Economic Forum, the question of the creation of free political activity, while the ANC will be saying that, "Hold on guys we are back in the negotiations". That is what they are miscalculating, whereas as an alliance we are all in agreement that we do need this National Economic Negotiations Forum to begin to address the short term and long term measures and we are one in that. We are going to run with that and engage in mass activities to force them to come in, but obviously we are hoping that we will achieve an interim government sooner, because that also has a potential of unlocking not only the Economic Forum, but the Housing Forum as well, the electrification process, the education forum as well. So that a number of areas which have been blocked by the present regime will be unlocked once we have an interim government.
POM So, you are saying that while the ANC and the alliance will review mass mobilisation in the content of unlocking the political negotiating process, that is quite separate from mass mobilisation which is directed towards social and economic and gender and that requires the setting up of structures to deal with the economy short term and long term and that should be addressed now?
SS Yes, that is what we are saying. We are saying that it doesn't help to say to somebody who doesn't have a house now, that wait until we have finalised the political process then we will begin to work out the programme of housing. What a person without a house wants to hear now is that here is a forum where their representatives are coming together to begin to say that when we have a democratic threshold, this is how the housing needs are going to be addressed, so that he begins to know that even if he doesn't have a house tomorrow, he will have a house in five year's time, or in ten year's time.
POM If I were a black person living in a township in a little shack, what should I reasonably be able to expect my government to deliver after I have had the right to vote for my own government, within five years?
SS I think it will differ from person to person, from situation to situation. Those who are not working would expect that a democratic government must be able to begin to create jobs for them, that it must begin to have a social security programme which, even if they lose their jobs, they are able to benefit either through retraining or through the unemployment insurance benefit, that is the one thing. Those who are living in shacks would expect that at least there must be a programme in place of beginning to deliver houses to people. Those who have houses would begin to say that they would expect to see a government which deals with a whole range of issues. So I don't think our people are so naïve as to expect that the ANC will come into power today and tomorrow they will all have houses, I think they all understand that, but I think what they want to see is a programme which says we want to build 450,000 houses in the next five years, and I think as long as they see these houses being built that will make them happy.
But obviously you then have to begin to say who are the major stake holders? You can't have a housing programme unless it is supported by the civics, so you need to begin to bring in the civics on board your housing programme. You can't have an employee creation scheme without the participation of the labour movement and business. So these are the type of things that I think people are looking into.
Even ourselves we have not been creating false hopes but what we are definitely able to say is that there is no way in which such a government will have to neglect the building of houses for people.
POM I want to go back for a minute to the negotiations. So many people have said, as you said to me, both in the ANC and the SACP that they might have had difficulty in selling the proposal that had been on offer to the government to the grassroots, when I think that the ANC had agreed in CODESA that the powers of regions would be entrenched in the constitution, that the boundaries of the regions would be drawn up in CODESA, not in the Constituent Assembly, which seemed to be two major things, you get the impression that in the end they were relieved the government said no, it took them off the hook. Do you think the ANC were nearly outfoxed by the government during those negotiations?
SS No, you see fortunately enough I also participated at the CODESA process, I was part of the SACP delegation at Working Group 3 that dealt with the setting up of an interim government and the role of the international community, so I was part of the discussions in the ANC and the party, of what our position is with regard to regions, their entrenchment thereof and the question of the boundaries.
Let me say from the onset that the ANC had never agreed that boundaries should be set up now at CODESA. What the ANC had agreed to do was to say that in a future dispensation, in a unitary state, you don't want to delegate, there are certain responsibilities which you should delegate, to the regions, but there are some whose existence you would want to entrench in the constitution. You see in our country, for instance, we used to have the Provincial Administrations which had powers, but you see because their powers were not in the constitution when the central government decided, they abolished them. So insofar as the existence of such regions, you would want to entrench their existence in the constitution but the powers thereof you would want to delegate, you would want to have a devolution of power from the central government, which is different from the regime saying, and this is where the confusion comes in, you see the government and Inkatha's position is one that says if you say we are going to have nine regions in a future SA, let us demarcate them now, let us give them powers now and entrench those in the interim constitution, that is what they want.
You entrench them in the interim constitution and when you pass your new constitution you can't repeal those powers which have been entrenched in the interim constitution unless you have a specified majority of each of the various regions. Now the ANC rejected that, so I think that is where the difference lies.
POM The ANC rejected that in CODESA?
SS Yes, because you see if you go back to the formulation, you will find that there is this thing that says 'this neither implies', so you would find that the regime would say something and the ANC would say we agree, but it doesn't imply the following and the ANC would say something and the regime would come up and say "Yes, we agree but it doesn't imply the following". That is one thing.
Of course, not necessarily that they were outfoxed, but I think there was a miscalculation on the part of the ANC, I am saying a miscalculation because before they went in to deal with the question of the 70%, in terms of the discussion that had taken place it was becoming clear that unless you give the government the question of the Senate, even with the 70% they would not budge. So I am saying that it was a miscalculation because had the government accepted that, it would have been very difficult to undo some of these issues, so I think in terms of that, yes it was a miscalculation and it is obviously something which needs to be avoided in the future.
POM How did it arise, was it just a miscalculation or was there a design to bring it about?
SS What happened was that we had a situation where the government's position was 75% for the adopting of the constitution and the ANC's position was 66.6% (two-thirds), the DP and one or two other parties, I can't remember whether it was Inyanza or Intandoyesizwe, proposed a 70% for consideration. Now, the feeling of the negotiator was that to emerge out of the CODESA process without an agreement because of a 3% difference, from 66% to 70%, even the international community would actually judge us to be very unreasonable and ridiculous, so it was a desire to pull the country out of an abyss, to say that, yes we know we don't have a mandate but we believe politically for our own country, it is correct. We will have difficulty in selling it to our constituency, but the role of leadership is to lead and to be able to explain why we took such a decision. So I think it was a desire to extend a hand of goodwill to the government to say if you can move from your 75% to 70%, drop the question of a veto right and accept a deadlock breaking mechanism within the Constituent Assembly, we are prepared as the ANC to come down to 70%. I am saying it was a miscalculation because of the after effects, but I am saying that the reason for that was really to extend a hand of friendship and not to be seen to have deadlocked the process because of a mere 3%.
POM Do you think the government turned down the best offer it would ever get?
SS I think it did. It will be very difficult for them to get it again, because I think now the regions are going to be very vigilant in terms of the negotiators, they are not going to give them a free hand, and I think they did miscalculate on their part as well, they actually threw away a chance.
POM You talked a bit about mass mobilisation and that you have got the Leipzig Option, where the masses overthrow the state and then you have got the tap you turned on and you turned off, what is now your strategy with regard to the use of mass mobilisation and do you see the mass mobilisation in August as having been successful? When I say successful, I mean successful to the extent that it sent the government a message which automatically the government had to act on as the government did not expect such a big stayaway. Do you see, as you have already mentioned, a socio-economic side, a continuing function that mass mobilisation should accompany negotiations and mass mobilisation is an instrument of the empowerment of the people?
SS Firstly, to say before we embarked on that week of action we were negotiating with SACCOLA, which agreement would have led to a one day shutdown on the part of business, voluntary shutdown, and with us in turn suspending the entire week of action in so far as it was going to damage the economy, but rather have marches and a whole range of other things. The government intervened at the last minute.
POM Is this definite because they deny it?
SS They deny but we are convinced, we have our own sources and they confirmed this, and I think in a number of publications it has come out.
What then happened is that they intervened and we believe they intervened precisely because they said, let COSATU burn their fingers, let them call a stayaway which is not heeded, let them burn their fingers by the thing not succeeding, they will have learned a lesson, never to call it again. But you see they miscalculated because they have never contended with the anger of the people on the ground, particularly in areas where people have been devastated by violence. That was the one thing.
The success that it achieved, the number of people, it has always been said that there was intimidation, but no one has as yet been able to say to me or to us as COSATU, how were people intimidated. You see you can intimidate people maybe to stay away, but how do you intimidate people to move from here into Pretoria for a march that was led by Mandela? I myself led on the 4th of August a March to Bisho that ended up at the stadium. How do you intimidate such people? Those who were there will tell you that they had constructed road blocks along the way, but people still went through those road blocks to the march. So in terms of that it was a success.
Secondly, it was a success because the government had always said they had released all political prisoners. They have always been saying there are no more political prisoners, that the only people that remain are criminals, but you see, through that mass activity we have been able to achieve, coupled obviously with negotiations by Cyril and everybody, to force the government to accept, through Vance when he was here, that there are political prisoners and they are prepared to release them.
The question of hostels, we have been saying from a long time ago that there are certain hostels which are used as military barracks to wage war against innocent people, they must be fenced, access control personnel around, and independent monitoring. They have never accepted this. The question of the banning in public of the carrying of dangerous weapons: they have always said they want to consult with Buthelezi and so forth. The question of the 32 Battalion, Koevoet and so forth, even though they haven't fully met our demands, but the fact that they announced their disbandment is as part of our struggle. The fact that there is a schism between the regime on the one hand and Buthelezi is as a result of our mass action because the government had had to make a choice, not of one of saying they want to ditch their traditional ally, but one of saying that if we want to move this country forward we have to take certain bold steps even if Buthelezi does not agree with those steps. So I think it terms of that, yes it was a success.
You see the problem of mass action is that it has not been one where it is counterpoised as insurrection or not insurrection, the debate that was raging was to say that, within our movements what we need to guard against is a situation where we say as leadership, now you must engage in mass action, and let people engage in it and then we say, OK, you have had enough, it was good whilst it lasted, now go back to your day to day affairs. We are saying we need to guard against that. Secondly, we are saying we also need to guard against being romantic about our struggle, about saying we will be able to march in the streets of Johannesburg and then the walls of Jericho are then going to fall, we are saying we need to guard against that, that what we need to do, the correct strategy, and this is the strategy which we are going to apply even now, is one that says mass action must not be a principle, because once you make it a principle then you paint yourself into a corner. The principle must be one that says you want to achieve certain demands by a particular period and that if these are not achieved, you have got a number of strategic weapons to use, one of which is mass action, so you use it in that light, or you also say, yes negotiations are now continuing, but rather just let Cyril say the people demand one person one vote elections, people must be seen on the streets of Johannesburg demanding elections for a Constituent Assembly now. There is a difference because you see, you are not saying that you want to break the deadlock but you are saying the government now accepts the need for a Constituent Assembly, now we must push them to give to our negotiators when is the date when elections are going to take place.
So the strategy that we are going to use now is, as I have said to you, that firstly the government has now agreed in principle to the election of a Constituent Assembly with sovereign powers within an agreed time phase with deadlock breaking mechanisms. Now what we want is to engage in negotiations about how to implement those in principle decisions. You have to then look into what form of activities can people engage in which strengthen the hands of those who are negotiating? There is the question of the hostels, how do you time your programme to push that instead of when the 15th of November arrives you find that hostels have not as yet been fenced, that the government sticks to its deadlines? You need to tailor that. There is the question of people who were dismissed during the week of action, you need to engage in activities that secure their jobs back, there is a need for the government to participate in the NAR, you engage in struggles around that, there is a question of food prices which are sky rocketing, so you need to look into that.
[So what you do, is you don't have] That is why I don't refer to it as mass action because mass action is an event, whereas I speak of mass struggles on all fronts, which means, negotiations may be continuing but there are people in Venda who don't have boreholes who are in the middle of a drought, who want water, these people can actually organise mass activities to demand more boreholes, to demand water, to demand that water must be transported to the various villages so that they should not starve from the drought, that is the one aspect. Secondly, people may begin to say that bread has sky-rocketed to a point where we can't afford it. So it is that type of activity that we are looking into.
POM One complaint I heard in Thokoza when I was talking to some people there was that they were saying if you took part in the stayaway and you were a member of the union, you were job protected, you did not lose your job, but if you were in a business that was not unionised, some people lost their jobs, etc., which inferred that there is a higher risk for somebody who is not in a unionised job, whereas there was very little risk for a person who was in a unionised job. Do you think those are valid?
SS No, because you see, actually it is less than a 1000 people who were dismissed countrywide and most of those were from small shops and so forth, but in a number of areas, Witbank, Ermelo, in Cape Town, those people have now been taken back because I think it is even easier to target the small shop owner for action, because we have decided that we are not going to go on blanket action, or call a consumer boycott for the whole area, we are going to identify those companies which have actually dismissed workers and engage in blacking out action against them. So it wasn't a high risk situation at all because a number of employers met with Mandela who said to them this is a political strike, so that you don't have the factories turned into a political battlefield, let us try and minimise the whole question of taking action against workers, and that paid dividends.
POM Was it part of your economic strategy to try to put pressure on business to put pressure on the government, that you were trying to use the catastrophe that would have accrued to business as a result of stayaways for them to say to the government, for God's sake, do something, be more reasonable, the whole economy is going down the drain?
The second question is that somebody said to me that the real divisions that are developing in SA are not between blacks and whites but between those who have jobs and those who don't and those who belong to unions are in a way a privileged class and that the gap between unionised black wages and comparable white wages had now been closed to about 85%.
The third question is what is the one thing to COSATU that comes close to being non-negotiable? Not the obvious one of one man one vote.
The last question I will give you as the last one because it is pulled from your Chairman in the Western Cape over the weekend, you are probably familiar with it, the Argus carried an account of it, saying that he criticised Mr. Jonathan Ramsey, he criticised Mr. Mandela, where he called Mr. Mandela's unilateral decision to restart negotiations, he said: "We in the region are closer to the people on the ground than he is, we know that they want action." He also said that, "Whatever Mandela has said does not affect what we have planned for October 12, we will have a day of action and are not thinking of deviating from our plans. Regionally we don't accept unilateral decisions". He said that, "The ANC's decision to call off the planned protest march in Bophuthatswana was taken unilaterally". He said, "The alliance comprising the ANC/COSATU/SACP had planned that march and the ANC National Working Committee had no right to call it off, the NWC is causing confusion through unilateral action". Are these direct criticisms by the Director of COSATU?
SS I will start with the last question. It deals with the fact that, if you are talking of the article which was in the Argus on the 17th September 1992, this is the statement which we have issued in conjunction with Jonathan. Firstly, I think as you will see here it does show that he was misquoted. The issue that he raised according to the statement was one that says: "From our position as COSATU, a decision has been arrived at to say, we are going to go for action on the 12th October. If the situation has changed, COSATU will have to inform us in terms of that activity, be it as it affects Bop., be it as it effects Ulundi and the entire country nationally. Therefore if the decision of the NWC is correct it will still have to be communicated to COSATU and COSATU will then have to take its own independent position to say do we agree with the ANC's National Working Committee to suspend certain activities or not." That is what is contained in that article, that is the first question.
The question of the gap, I don't know whether to say it is correct or not correct, but the one thing which COSATU is not building is a labour aristocracy, we are not building that.
POM My question was not implied in that way.
SS Yes, I understand. That is why you find that, firstly, in terms of those who are not members of our union you will find that most of our unions are now demanding an agency fee, because the situation in our country is that the majority union negotiates for all the workers, so whatever we get for our own members, all those workers who don't even belong to our unions at the particular industry, if it is industry level negotiations, they benefit, so there is no such thing.
With regard to the unemployed and the employed, of course obviously you will have that gap because obviously those who go to work have got something to take home at the end of the day and those who are not working have got nothing to take home at the end of the day, but that is where the comparison ends. COSATU's programme from our inception has been one that says we don't fight only for the rights of our own members, that is why I was speaking about training boards, about the question of UIF benefits, about the whole question of housing schemes, because you see our approach is that if we went for a housing scheme in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, rather than take people from Durban to go and build houses in Khayelitsha, you must use the local people there because in that way you are building houses and also giving people jobs in that particular area, that is the one example.
You see with us as COSATU, we have got a number of issues which are non-negotiable and I think, as you say, it is not only the question of one person one vote, but it is the question of that we will never accept that the Constituent Assembly should not have sovereign powers, that its powers should be subjected to a veto by a second house, be it a Senate or something else, that is the one thing which will not accept. Secondly, we will not accept the unilateral restructuring of the economy by either business and/or the state.
With regard to your first question, our approach has been two-pronged. The first one was to say to business, you have been all along the traditional ally of the government, now you need to understand that failure to reach a political settlement has got dire consequences for the economy, that stand up as big business, not on a COSATU platform, not on an ANC platform, and say publicly what you think should be happening to move the country out of an abyss to real democracy. And that Charter for Peace, Democracy and Economic Reconstruction was a beginning because we saw it as a situation where business was beginning to say, "we don't care what the ANC says, we don't care what the government says, but we believe that we need to move as speedily as possible towards holding elections for a Constituent Assembly, one person one vote, that we need to have an interim government of national unity so as to maintain stability in the country, that violence affects the production at the factory floor because people can't perform very well because when they leave home in a train, he is not quite sure whether he will reach his place of work or whether he will find his family safe at the end of the day, or is he going to die, will they be attacked at night and so forth. So that business had to take a decision around those lines.
So yes, on the one hand if they took such a stand it would actually put more pressure on the government to begin to say we are losing some of our allies. Secondly it would have an advantage of driving a wedge temporary between them and whoever, and as far as we are concerned we think it actually worked, but it was not our intention to just try to divide them, it came out of a genuine desire to see business standing up to be counted as another organ of civil society to say we cannot just stand by while the country is sinking and going down the tube.
POM Would you find power sharing at an executive level written into the constitution acceptable?
SS Non-negotiable, no to forced coalition.
POM Buthelezi, does he have the capacity to be a spoiler? That is, could you have an agreement reached with ANC and government and he is out there in Natal and can induce a state of permanent low scale civil war?
SS The answer is yes and no. He has the capacity of a spoiler in the pockets of the government. In other words, if the government is backing him up he has the capacity to unleash the type of violence which we saw in the eighties. I am saying that if the government allows it, because you see, then they can turn a blind eye in terms of prosecutions, arrests by police and a whole range of things.
On the other hand, if we are able to reach agreement on the whole question of effective policing, and to bring under one joint command the South African police and the Bantustan police, his chances of a spoiler in terms of violence, are limited in that regard. But obviously we are not quite sure where the government stands with regard to that because I think they see him, as Pik Botha has said, they see him as being able to deliver about one million votes to the NP's alliance. So depending on whether they see him as a credible ally, it will depend around that. But I think if they want the negotiations process to continue, then they will have to curb his powers.
POM Is there a Zulu nationalism that he can draw on and use together with the King in a destructive way?
SS It can work to a particular level, but I think it can work against him as well. It will work against him because you see then people will begin to see that there was never a tribal fight between the Xhosas and the Zulus but that it is a question of those forces of darkness versus the forces for democracy.
POM Ok. Thank you very much.